A group of Michigan state representatives introduced a proposal earlier this month that would require records belonging to governing boards be open for public inspection. Furthermore, the resolution would change the wording that requires “formal sessions” of governing boards be open to the public, to all “meetings.”

The proposed amendment to the state’s constitution — which would apply to the University’s Board of Regents — would require an agenda or specific statement regarding the purpose of all meetings be made public.

According to Ed McBroom (R–Vulcan), the resolution was developed after he and other representatives learned that during an unspecified public university governing board meeting, almost all the regents phoned into the meeting, and nearly none were physically present during voting and public comments.

“Where do people go for the meeting, and how could the members of the board know the opinion of the public when they weren’t even here to hear the testimony?” McBroom said.

McBroom said the representatives who introduced the bill believe accountability and transparency for elected governing boards is essential.

“This constitutional amendment will return transparency and accountability to these boards, and give the legislature the constitutional authority to decide when these boards can meet in closed session,” McBroom wrote in an e-mail.

The resolution has been submitted to the House Committee on Oversight and Ethics, and must be approved by the House and Senate before being placed on a statewide ballot and then considered again by both houses of the legislature.

Currently, the University and other state institutions are required to follow provisions outlined in the state of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. The act, which took effect in 1977, requires public bodies, such as public university governing boards, to give notice of meetings, make all decisions available to the public and allow attendees to record the proceedings.

“In enacting the OMA, the legislature promoted a new era in governmental accountability and fostered openness in government to enhance responsible decision making,” the act states.

After the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Federated Publications, Inc. v. MSU Board of Trustees that governing boards of public universities can decide when to hold “formal” and “informal” sessions, McBroom said boards began to choose which meetings were subject to the Open Meetings Act. The decision also allowed governing boards to make decisions in private with a voting quorum.

The Open Meetings Act also contains additional limitations for the jurisdiction of public meetings. For example, the act allows bodies to hold closed sessions when negotiating collective bargaining if a party requests a closed session. Additionally, if a candidate for public office requests their application to be confidential, representatives are allowed to review appointments for public office in a non-public setting.

The Open Meetings Act does not apply to “a social or chance gathering or conference,” though if the public body meets to discuss matters of public policy, the meeting must be open.

“The OMA does not define the terms ‘social or chance gathering’ or ‘conference,’ and provides little direct guidance as to the precise scope of this exemption,” the act states.

Several complaints have been filed alleging public universities were violating the Open Meetings Act. Most recently, the Detroit Free Press sued the University in July, alleging that the Board of Regents holds most discussion and makes most decisions on University issues in private.

According to the Free Press, the regents held discussion on only 12 out of 116 votes held, with with one or more regents voting no on a proposal only eight times.

The University potentially violated the Open Meetings Act again in November, after the regents meeting was interrupted by a protest from the organization By Any Means Necessary.

The regents moved from their usual meeting place in the Anderson Room in the Michigan Union to the Regents Room in the Fleming Administration Building. University officials did not publicly announce where the proceedings would be located, signs on the building read “The building is LOCKED” and security guards blocked the public from entering the building.

University administrators said the meeting location changed due to public safety concerns. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University upheld provisions of the Open Meetings Act because members of the media were present.

“The meeting was reconvened at a different location, but not until all members of the news media were present,” Fitzgerald said at the time. “We believe these steps provided for a balance between keeping those in attendance safe while still providing public access.”

Regarding the current resolution introduced to the state House, Fitzgerald said in a statement: “All I can say at this point is that we will watch this resolution closely as it moves through the legislature.”

McBroom said because of the bipartisan nature of the resolution, he does not believe the resolution will encounter problems passing through the state legislature.

“I believe that it’s very important that the members of those boards and other elected bodies see their constituents, and are present and can look them in the eye while they give their opinions, and they’re not at some airport with the phone on mute, doing other things just waiting for the vote to come around,” he said.

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